Nudge marketing in retail needs a reboot

Today’s marketers live in a craven state of panic as they try to seize on or adapt to the latest marketing trend, buzz phrase, or piece of essential new technology (Oculus Rift anybody?) With everybody chasing their tails, worried about missing the latest microtrend, Professor Leslie de Chernatony helps businesses separate brand magic from hype.

Nudge marketing has been around for quite a few years now, even the government’s own nudge unit is five years old.

Whether it’s been recognised or not, grocery retail has been using nudge marketing techniques for years.

Let’s define nudge marketing as “small gestures, suggestions and affirmations to try and achieve non-forced decision making”. In-store marketing has been has been at it for decades with point of sale messages attempting to influence shoppers’ decision-making in favour of their brands.

But has POS had its heyday and should brand retailers be looking at the next generation of in-store nudge marketing? The answer is clearly yes. Research by POPAI into the effectiveness of POS in grocery retailing shows that the average Tesco supermarket has more than 16,300 pieces of POS, but only 0.48 per cent is actually looked at. In this day and age surely it’s time for data-powered, personalised, timely nudge marketing?

We only need to look at one of the early pioneers of data driven personalised nudge marketing… Amazon. According to its CEO Jeff Bezos, the retailer provides more than 70 million nudges in a typical week, translating into billions of increased sales across the globe.

Technology has been utilised by nudge marketing for a number of health and social initiatives. In the early days of SMS, messages were effective at helping patients to quit smoking, remember their medication and even lose weight. Jump forward a decade and a generation of smartphone junkies are now using the technology to live their lives more efficiently. There’s an app that tells you when you’ve been sitting down for too long (Stand Up!) and one which tells you what to wear based on the day’s weather (swackett).

Our shopping expectations have also changed dramatically. We’re used to shopping online with the likes of Amazon, Asos and the big supermarkets, and have grown accustomed to how tailored and relevant their nudge marketing is. Brands and retailers could also leverage data driven nudge marketing to create convincing reasons to buy and to buy more.

With its recent leasing of a former Tesco distribution centre on the outskirts of London, Amazon seems poised to launch its grocery offering, Fresh, in the capital. Its Amazon Dash buttons already promise to allow branded items to be automatically added to the household shopping basket when pressed – perfect for regular consumables like washing detergent, pet foods, nappies or toiletries. It looks like UK shoppers are going to start receiving intuitive and innovative Amazon experiences with their groceries more and more.

But nudge marketing could be used to drive sales in a different way, by driving consumption. Marmite’s recent campaign (Love it, hate it, just don’t forget it) was a broadcast campaign that aimed to do exactly that. But imagine nudge messages to your phone or a small screen on your freezer that reminds you that you have a frozen pizza that hasn’t been eaten yet or a jar of Marmite lurking in the back of a cupboard.

Too much? It could be. Marketers must remember that one man’s nudge is another man’s unnecessary and annoying poke. The consumer will ultimately decide what they find relevant and of value, not your creative technologist. Good marketers understand the needs of shoppers implicitly and need to ask the telling questions that determine whether nudges are appropriate and ultimately effective. Are they adding value, making life easier, smarter, faster? Or are they an annoying nuisance that will be filtered out like their POS forbearers?

Regardless of channel or technology the marketer’s core rule applies – be relevant and add value.

Professor Leslie de Chernatony is a board director at Life Agency